On 30 September 1859 the Department of Lands and Public Works was divided into two Departments - the Department of (Secretary for) Lands and the Department of (Secretary for) Public Works (1). The Secretary for Public Works was responsible for Railways, Electric Telegraph, Roads, Colonial Architect, Harbours and River Navigation, Steam Dredges and Cranes, Fitz Roy Dry Dock (Cockatoo Island), and Works of Defence (Fortification or Military Works Branch) (2).
In 1860 the Department assumed responsibility for the Glebe Island Punts and Abattoirs. From January 1861, the Electric Telegraph Branch was transferred to the newly formed post Master General’s Department. In 1875 a Board for Opening Tenders for Public Works was incorporated in the Department; in 1886 Sewerage became a sub-branch of roads; and in 1888 a Tramways Branch was established. A Valuation of Land Branch was formed in 1889; Examiners of Public Works Proposals (1891); Water Conservation, Irrigation and Drainage (1892); Board of Reference (1894)’ Irrigation Trusts and Drainage Unions (1894)’ Board of Water Supply and Sewerage (1894), subsequently Country Towns Water Supply Branch and Sewerage Branch (1902)’ Cement-Testing Branch (1897); Country Towns Water Supply Branch and Water Conservation Branch (1898); Surveys Branch (1897)l Records and Correspondence Branch (1897), subsequently Clerical Branch (1898); Accounts Branch (1897)’ Photographic and heliographic Branch (1898); Professional Relieving Staff (1899); Railways and Tramway Construction Branch (1899); Roads and Bridges and Public Watering Places (1902); Labour Commissioners and Labour Bureau (1902); Public Wharves and Resumed Properties (1902); Government Dockyards Branch and Newcastle Workshops were established, both being incorporated in the Industrial Undertakings Branch with the Building Construction Branch in 1914 (3).
An official history of the Public Works Department observes that " ' development' may not be the most appropriate way to explain the administrative history of the PWD. The organisational changes neither evolved nor were they cumulative, nor progressive, in the scale and quantity of work, efficiency of performance, level of economy or amount of expenditure" (4). The author proceeds by observing that "The structure of the Department was very flexible and in the process of constant change in response to altering demands and emphases, ... [the Department was] an organisational complex rather than an administrative unit, sub-dividing and re-absorbing it components and also creating new organisms" (5). There was inconsistency in the naming of sections within the Department in official sources such as Parliamentary returns, public service lists and Departmental reports. Even in official correspondence and terms branch, office and department for sections such as the Colonial Architect appear to have been used interchangeably.
In 1890 Public Works Department was divided into sections titled Secretariat, Tender Board, Valuation of Land, Roads and Bridges Branch (including sewerage section), Railways Construction Branch (including Tramways), Harbours and River Navigation Branch, Military Works Branch and Government Architect’s Branch (6).
The Secretary for Public Works undertook responsibility for Local Government in 1906. (7) A Local Government branch was created under the supervision of an Officer-in-Charge with the Local Government Engineer and three clerks. Together with the Local Government Areas Commission and the Local Government Advisory Board, the branch was responsible for the administration of the Local Government (Shires) Act, 1905 including the division into shires of the parts of the State not already incorporated into Municipalities, and dividing the shires into ridings, increasing the boundaries of some existing local government areas, appointment of temporary Councils in the Shires until elections were organised, classification and mapping of Shires. (8) Although new administrative arrangements transferred Local Government matters to the Minister for Public Instruction in March 1915 (9) , the Public Works Department continued to assist with engineering and technical matters until 1 February 1936. The Public Works and Local Government Departments were amalgamated on 1 February, 1936 (10) and operated as the Department of Works and Local Government until 2 June, 1941 (11)
(1) Government Gazette, 30/09/1859.
(2) Public Service List, 1859, p 88 - 92.
(3) "Concise Guide" 2nd Edition. "Po-Pu" "Public Works", pp.38-40.
(4) Coltheart, Lenore., Guide to the History of the Public Works Department of New South Wales. Public Works Department, NSW. 1991 p.27
(6) Public Service List, 1890. pp. 118 - 128
(7) NSW Government Gazette 5 January, 1906 p. 108
(8) Report of the Department of Public Works for the year ended 30 June 1906 p.101-105 in NSW Parliamentary Papers 1906 Volume 4. P. 105- 9
(9) NSW Government Gazette 25 March, 1915 p. 1861
(10) Department of Works and Local Government for the year ended 30 June, 1936 p.1 in NSW Parliamentary Papers, 1937 -1938, Volume 3, 1145
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